File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2003/lyotard.0302, message 123

Subject: RE: Levinas and Psychoanalysis
Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 13:08:17 -0600 (CST)

Hi, Eric. I think there is an interesting intersection b/w levinasian ethics 
and lacanian psychoanalysis...though, as we know, he didn't want to open that 
channel. For that reason, i guess it's important to remember that for Levinas 
(who seemed to read Freudian psychoanalysis mainly as ego psychology), the 
relation with autrui, the ethical relation, precedes the relation to the self 
or to the "world," to the entire tropological structure, and so certainly 
precedes the Oedipal triangle, etc. So when he speaks of the relation with 
autrui, he's not talking about the relation of an "I" to another "I." The "I" 
is already a figure, and autrui is precisely not another my-self. This 
distinction, I think, is what he was struggling to maintain when he dissed 
psychoanalysis (at least, it seems to be one thing he was struggling to 
maintain). The ethical relation is immemorial; it can't be merely recalled b/c 
it occurred in a past that preceded the very subject who would try to remember 
it; the ethical relation, then, shows up only under erasure, as a trace--an 
interruption or caesura in the smooth workings of the "world." 

Nonetheless, the ethical moment in Levinas--that is, the "experience" of the 
ethical relation--is that moment when my "I" is shattered by the sudden upsurge 
of the "face" of the other, by an inassimilable alterity that busts through its 
plastic form. At this instant, when I am faced with more than my "I" can 
hold: "I" (as thinking subject) is obliterated, taken out, KOed, and what is 
left of "me" sans ego, sans conscious subject, undergoes an "experience without 
experience" (an experience without a knowing subject) that is not reducible to 
knowledge and that exposes "my" irreparable exposedness. And I agree, Eric: 
that sure sounds an awfully lot like both Freud and Lacan's notions of trauma. 
So that may indeed be an intersection. The ethical relation would precede any 
traumatic "experience" of it, but in the traumatic "experience" that ethical 
relation is exposed. 

About God being the name for the il y a....i'm not sure. At times it sure 
sounds that way, but most of the time, Levinas responds to the il y a with 
horror (unlike either Blanchot or Bataille)--it is that horror that sends him 
scrambling for an ethics and leads him to the radical notion of substitution. 
I'm not sure yet how to talk about this, and it is the most difficult part of 
Levinas's work for me, the hardest part for me to get a good sense of. Whereas 
Bataille, for instance, wanted to DIVE IN to the il y a, Levinas is horrified. 
The il y a plays an important part in his ethics from Existence and Existents 
all the way through to Otherwise than Being, but it seems not really to operate 
as "god" so much as a limit (of no-thingness, of indiscriminant being, Being 
without beings) that keeps us from settling into nihilistic fixity (simplistic 
belief in the tropological structure, in "identity," etc.)--and/but it is also 
the il y a that the trace of the Other keeps us from sinking into 
absolutely. ..... I'm kind of babbling here....i better stop. 

I do think you're right that Lacan, Levinas, and Badiou may be linked in a 
basic way by where they begin: none of them begins with a unified, self-present 
subject, for example, or with any sort of na´ve foundationalism. I do think 
they each take those basic non-foundationalist assumptions in very different 
directions, but perhaps they share more than they immediately seem to. 

Best, ddd

-----ps: i haven't read Made in Texas, but I've heard some strong support for 
it in the halls of UT. :)  Of course, UT is where it *would* get support. 

> Diane,
> You raise excellent points regarding the deficiency of Badiou's critique
> of Levinas.  This is an issue upon which you and I continue to be in
> agreement. I also share with you the view that even though Levinas
> himself may have been pious and full of "god talk", it is certainly
> possible to read him in a way that avoids the necessity of theology.
> Lyotard, to merely give one example, was a great reader of Levinas who
> remained far from being religious. I will even concede you the point
> that, for similar reasons, Levinas need not be considered as necessarily
> conservative or reactionary in the political sense.  I have no wish to
> be unduly reductive in my interpretation of Levinas.
> What I want to explore further with you instead, however, is this very
> relationship of Lacan with Levinas.  This is because I believe Badiou's
> ethics also bear a deep relationship in many ways with Lacan's own
> ethical concerns.
> I thought you made an excellent point when you said that "God is the
> name for that which infinitely exceeds the tropological structure; and
> though Levinas would hate this, it looks and acts an awfully lot like
> (but is not simply reducible to) what Lacan calls the Real."
> I agree and would go on to say that this formulation is also close to
> what Levinas calls the 'il y a' or 'there is' in "Existence &
> Existents."  Levinas writes: "In horror a subject is stripped of its
> subjectivity, of his power to have private existence...It is a
> participation in the there is, in the there is which returns in the
> heart of every negation, in the there is that has "no exits." It is, if
> we may say so, the impossibility of death, the universality of existence
> even in its annihilation."
> To me this sounds suspiciously like Lacan's notion of a traumatized
> subject.  Certainly, some of the other elements you name such as
> masochism, being held hostage to the other, substitution, and the
> principle of alterity itself as a kind of shattering of the mirror stage
> all lend themselves to a psychoanalytical interpretation.
> I am not saying this as an attempt to do an easy refutation of Levinas
> that subjects it to Freudian analysis or one that merely interprets his
> ethics as a masking of the superego under the guise of the other.
> What I find so impressive about Lacan, in spite of his jargon, is that
> he presents psychoanalysis as a way that leads us into the ethical, not
> beyond it.  Despite the horror Levinas would have with my
> interpretation, there clearly seems to be psychoanalytical elements in
> the way Levinas presents his ethics, if only because he presents them in
> a phenomenological, existential fashion.  He does not argue logically
> like Kant, but rather puts us at the primal scene, as it were, of the
> birth of ethics, in the destitute face of the other that creates an
> obligation.
> By showing us how ethics is situated in the Event of the Other, doesn't
> Levinas reveal a basic affinity with Badiou and Lacan? And doesn't this
> allow us to minimize the significance of the "god talk" and interpret
> his ethics in a much more radical fashion?
> As Lyotard puts it in the Differend (171):
> "Levinas' "marvel" comes close to the "alienness" of the Gnostics,
> particularly in Marcion's case. Obligation alienates the ego: it becomes
> the you of an absolutely unknowable other. Jonas also uses the word
> Unheimlichkeit, which gathers within itself the contradictory relation
> between ego and other.  In acceding to this request, I go out far away
> from my home, as a hostage, without ever taking up habitation with you,
> nor ever being your guest, since you have no residence, but I also
> thereby fulfill my calling, which is to be at home no longer.  Freud,
> putting the id in the place of you, goes the wrong way when he assigns
> to the ego the call of evicting the id.  He would be succumbing to the
> temptation of empty knowledge. But the analysis, supposing that it
> consists in this substitution, it is still interminable."
> Keep in mind Marcion was also a very close reader of St. Paul as well as
> Badiou.
> eric


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